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Extreme perfectionists aspire to achieve everything but often generate the opposite: they are often overwhelmed and have a lonely life.
Instead of fighting their weaknesses, they should be aware of their strengths and capabilities. The problem reaches some elite athletes, successful surgeons or virtuoso musicians: they have come a long way, but they are perfectionists for whom high performance is their key to life and they devote themselves to it with passion.
Their aspiration is always to be better, to keep everything in order. But there is a fine line between healthy perfectionism and sick perfectionism, which instead of encouraging makes things difficult. “Perfectionism becomes a problem when the fulfilment of high aspirations becomes very demanding in the long run and people suffer,” says psychologist Christine Altstötter-Gleich of the University of Landau.
These “dysfunctional perfectionists” are often dissatisfied with their performance. In general, they pay more attention to their weaknesses than to their strengths and are afraid to make mistakes. “They can’t stand not living up to the standards they impose on themselves.
An average performance is for them a catastrophe and, as they rarely achieve their almost impossible goals, they experience the feeling of failure more often than others. “Their self-esteem is closely linked to successes and goals,” says psychologist Nils Spitzer. “If these people consider their level to be bad in a certain area, they completely disqualify their entire personality.
They feel like losers in all areas of life. Moreover, they believe that even the smallest mistakes have dramatic consequences. “They fear, for example, being despised by their environment when they don’t meet those demands,” Spitzer says.
They are not aware that not making mistakes does not exempt criticism. Experts believe that the origin of this behavior lies in education. “Parents probably linked their high demands with emotional coldness; that is to say, the child only received attention when something worked and his mistakes were commented on more frequently than his successes,” says Altstötter-Gleic
Similar experiences throughout life intensified the negative trend. The constant struggle for perfection leads to exhaustion, stress and social isolation. As a result, they may suffer from eating or sleeping problems, exhaustion and depressions.
When perfectionists project their aspirations onto others, friends, partners, and family feel bad. “The perfectionist becomes an unpleasant guy who ruins everyone’s fun because he finds mistakes everywhere,” Spitzer says.
The solution is not to lower expectations “but dysfunctional perfectionists should ask themselves what they really want, what their capabilities are, and how much energy they want to invest in every aspect of life,” advises Altstötter-Gleich. “Depending on their priorities, there may be areas of life in which they can raise their aspirations.
But at the same time they have to recognize their limitations in others where they are not so good. And this is the hardest thing for them, because they want to shine in all fields. Instead they have a solitary life, and they need to be aware of this, says author Doris Märtin. In her opinion it is better to do several things well than one perfectly.
“For 80% of the activities only 20% of the total effort is needed. But for the remaining 20%, 80% of the strength is needed for the result to be ideal,” says Märtin. The time saved can be used for other hitherto neglected areas of life.
In order to overcome the problem, the specialist recommends perfectionists to ask themselves all the time: Does my effort in this make sense or is it just a question of image? Does it help me to improve? Or is it just an effort in the service of my desire to stand out? Perfectionists are often insecure and get lost in details. As a result, they postpone decisions too long and miss opportunities.
those affected should be forced to decide within a certain timeframe some things that are not very important, adds Spitzer. “In this way they strengthen their intuition and learn to get answers with a limited number of arguments.
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